John Connolly and Alan Glynn
No Alibis' David Torrans hosts an evening with acclaimed crime writers John Connolly and Alan Glynn
David Torrans, of No Alibis bookstore, scans the crowd gathered in the Crescent Arts Centre. 'All you people would never have fitted in the shop!'
Alan Glynn is here to launch his third novel, Bloodland, and John Connolly is launching his latest Charlie Parker thriller, The Burning Soul. Glynn will read an extract from his book. 'And John will talk,' Torrans jokes, 'as John does.' But first, there is music.
It's a welcome surprise. Isobel Anderson, fresh from Glastonbury, is here to promote her new album, Cold Water Songs. At first she hides behind her guitar a little, but her vocal style is particularly suited to the intimate and friendly atmosphere of the venue.
Torrans describes her output of 'fairy tale songs', whimsical acoustic ballads that evoke nostalgia, chronicling summers lost and loves that may or may not have been, channeling Fiona Apple and Nick Drake by turns.
Alan Glynn's Bloodland can best be described as a conspiracy thriller with an Irish dimension. 'As always in my work, it is about corporate and political malfeasance,' Glynn adds, before admitting that he culled that bit from a review.
Clearly, Glynn's thing is plugging the reader into his protagonist's head, in this case a crazed Gulf War vet. The many F-bombs with which his monologue is spiked seem incongruous from the lips of this writer, who looks like a history teacher, jacket just lacking elbow patches.
He then crawls into the inebriated brain of ex-Taoiseach (and Winterland favourite) Larry Bolger. 'It's not a portrait of Bertie Ahern,' the author carefully states. The audience titters when this character, struggling to write his memoirs, pours himself another whiskey in midmorning, and drunk-calls an old associate. Glynn has found his reading voice now, and overcome his nerves.
He admits to not being entirely used to such events yet, quite unlike John Connolly, who needs an audience member to remind him what he read at his previous Belfast appearance. He then launches into a typically picaresque monologue about an old flame arriving at a launch, and the frustration of reading for an audience of children.
Connolly gets more poignant when discussing The Burning Soul, in which a man who killed a girl in his teens realises his secret is known. Connolly relates it to the James Bulger case: 'If you did something horrible as a child, does it define you for the rest of your life?'
He muses on adolescents having to create new identities when their own are just forming. His surprise about the Bulger killers is not that one re-offended, but that the other didn't crack. He argues for a nuanced fictional approach. 'Red top headlines screaming MONSTER!'
While The Burning Soul is relatively stand-alone, his next book will again be firmly rooted in the supernatural mythos of the series. The audience can choose for Connolly reading from this, or from or the follow-up to his recent children's book, Hell's Bells. The cries of 'Parker' far outweigh 'cheerful', and with mock resignation Connolly assents.
There's a palpable sense of evil even in the short fragment he reads, about a blackmailer with terminal cancer who is confronted by a sinister woman and a young boy. 'He is my son, but so much more!'
The evening finishes with a round of banter between Torrans and the boys. Glynn tends to defer to Connolly, but holds his own when they swap anecdotes about their books being filmed.
Connolly found himself praising film-makers' designs for 'the monsters' when his original story didn't contain any, while Glynn recalls his elation at being applauded by Robert de Niro. Film adaptation is a long, tedious process, where sudden progress and long lulls engender what Glynn calls 'excitement fatigue'.
The popularity of the No Alibis book launch series is justified. The readings and music are welcome, but what stands out is how funny and entertaining these authors are, and the warmth with which the audience is included in their circle.
It's like the literary salons of yore, but without the pretensions. Both authors admit they can only exist as writers by virtue of their readers, and it's essential for them to keep growing. For Connolly, each new book is an experiment. 'But your books are still recognisably John Connolly,' Glynn remarks and Connolly agrees. 'Oh yes! It's not: "Look! Tolstoy's back!"'
Visit the No Alibis website for information on forthcoming book launch events.